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Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

BRUSSELS – European Union diplomats have decided to extend the EU arms embargo on Belarus by another year but to make an exception for small-caliber sport guns.

Following the February 14 decision, EU diplomats will prepare legal documents on the matter ahead of the February 28 deadline for renewal of the embargo.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, diplomats told RFE/RL that Hungary and Slovakia had been eager to establish an exemption for small-caliber sport guns, which will complement the exemption of biathlon rifles that was added last year.

The new exemption will be applied on a case-by-case basis, however, and national authorities have the right to limit the numbers, diplomats said.

They said that in the earlier stages of debate on the embargo, Hungary also wanted to add spare parts for helicopters to the exemption list, but later backed down.

The EU first introduced the arms embargo, along with visa bans and asset freezes on four Belarusian companies and 174 individuals including President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, after a violent crackdown on demonstrators that followed the December 2010 presidential election.

The EU removed the companies and 170 individuals, including Lukashenka, from the sanctions list in February 2016, citing what it said were improvements in the human rights situation in the ex-Soviet republic.

The asset freezes and visa bans against the four individuals who are still on the sanctions list will also be renewed by the end of the month. The EU says the four played key roles in the unresolved disappearances of four high-profile Belarusians in 1999-2000, including an opposition politician.

“For the past 39 years, the regime’s control of news and information has been implacable," RSF said in a statement.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterated its condemnation of the Iranian authorities’ harassment of journalists, saying control of news and information has been “implacable” since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iranian authorities are “trying to reinforce its news control both at home and internationally,” the Paris-based media watchdog said on February 13.

“For the past 39 years, the regime’s control of news and information has been implacable and its persecution of media independence has been unparalleled,” a statement added, citing "police and judicial harassment.”

“The exact number of journalists arrested and convicted during this dark period in Iran’s history – especially during the purge years – is still not officially known,” it also said.

The statement insisted that the crackdown on the freedom to inform also targets the international media.

RSF said several journalists who received visas and are currently in Iran have been prevented for moving about freely in the capital, Tehran, and that they have been prevented from covering antigovernment protests that spread across the country in late December and early January.

Iran is ranked 165th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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